Great expectations

22 August 2013

Emeritus Professor Sir Mason Durie's parents had modest expectations for their three sons. They had lived through the poverty of the Great Depression and just wanted their children to a get a stable job, in a trade or with the government.

But Sir Mason's grandfather had bigger dreams for his grandsons: he wanted one to become a doctor, another a lawyer and the third a farmer.

The boys lived up to these high expectations. Sir Mason became a doctor, while his younger brother became a lawyer and their elder sibling a farmer.

"Without my grandfather's ambitions and expectations of us, I may have settled for what my parent's ambitions were, that of stable employment," Sir Mason said at the end of a three-week visit to the University of Sydney as a Wingara Mura Visiting Thinker.

Great expectations and ambition are attributes which Sir Mason believes will be key to the success of the  Wingara Mura - Bunga Barrabugu strategy, our University-wide strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, research, participation and engagement.

"The strategy is a different model to other strategies I've seen," Sir Mason said. "It embraces a whole-of-university approach as opposed to separating away the indigenous strategy. It means the strategy is a part of the bigger university."

"The model is very much focused on success. The expectations of the students are high, they are expected to be as good as any other student at the University."

The second Wingara Mura Visiting Thinker program brings international experts to the University to help deepen our critical thinking and self-reflection on issues related to the implementation of  Wingara Mura - Bunga Barrabugu.

Sir Mason, a former deputy vice-chancellor of New Zealand's Massey University, said the strategy's ambitious goals to raise participation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff over coming years are important, but added that Wingara Mura would also deliver long-term benefits.

"The future leaders of our society will need tertiary education to provide quality leadership and it will be from this cohort of students that we will find our future leaders."

Sir Mason said he had seen great work across the University during his visit.

"The Student Recruitment Unit, for example, is now identifying and establishing relationships with schools with high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. They'll be able to inspire the students to pursue tertiary education and help them build pathways to get there," Sir Mason said.

"The Faculty of Law also has a great program working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers in private and public law on native land title. It's an initiative which will help more lawyers become interested in pursuing postgraduate degrees."

As deputy vice-chancellor and assistant vice-chancellor (Māori and Pasifika) at Massey University, Sir Mason introduced the Te Rau Puawai Scholarships, which enables Maori students to study psychology and nursing, disciplines which had previously low numbers of Maori enrolments.

The program involved collaboration with the Ministry of Health and working closely with the students, their employers.

"By providing the support they needed, we achieved a 92 percent pass rate," he recalled.

"I think the reason they did well is because of the support they received and because we placed high expectations on them."

"Expectations are key. If they are low, that's what you get. But instead of asking why people fail, we should be looking at why people succeed. This is what Wingara-Mura does, it sets high targets and has high expectations."

At the conclusion of his visit to the University, Sir Mason gave a presentation in which he outlined three scenarios for the University. The scenarios look at what the Wingara Mura strategy may lead to in 2025. Watch Sir Mason's presentation where he outlines the scenarios.

"I think the Wingara Mura strategy will be achieved. I have already seen great initiatives and programs that are achieving results," Sir Mason said.

"This is the oldest university in Australia and it should include the oldest cultures in Australia."